Her book, Black Water Rising, got the kind of boost that most first-time authors might consider sacrificing a limb for when it was accorded a mostly favorable review by the New York Times’ Janet Maslin at the top of the newspaper’s Monday Arts section. Maslin called the book “atmospheric [and] richly convoluted” and invoked Scott Turow, Dennis Lehane and one of America’s best working novelists, George Pelecanos, in praising facets of Locke’s plotting and characterization.
Attica Locke—she was named, Maslin reports, after the site of the 1971 New York state prison uprising—is a graduate of Hastings H.S. and Northwestern University and a disillusioned aspiring screenwriter, according to this Houston Chronicle profile from last week, wherein she emphatically disclaimed the notion that Jay Porter is her dad, or vice-versa:
“I have to be clear that Jay is not really my dad. At all,” Locke says. “Some of the circumstances of the character’s life line up with my father’s in the sense that my dad was also a political activist at the University of Houston at that time period. He did go on to become a criminal defense attorney. He was on trial, not for trying to kill somebody, but for inciting a riot.Whatever the case, the daughter’s book can’t help but be fodder for local parlor-game amusement. It’s set in 1981—the year, coincidently, that we arrived in Houston*, along with half of the rest of North America—and the mayor is a white woman named Cynthia Maddox, an “old flame” of Jay Porter’s and onetime “outspoken member of Students for a Democratic Society, a white girl drawn to black radicals ‘as sure as if the Temptations had come to town.’ ” (Real-life reality check: Houston’s first and only female mayor, Kathy Whitmire, did not assume office until 1982, and Whitmire was no radical revolutionary, even in her youth, but rather a moderate, working-class North Houston-to-the-Heights Democrat [there used to be a whole lot more of ’em than just Gene Green]. As for the rest of it, including the Temptations part, well, we’d rather not think too much about it. ) According to Maslin, Locke also includes “arresting visual filed trips (to places like the huge country-and-western club Gilley’s … )" and other apparent deep-Houston touches.
We’ll refrain from any sweeping judgment, not having read Locke’s book, but we do detect traces of a clichéd mind at work in the plot turnings, if Maslin’s summary of the book is correct:
Where will the strike [by dockworkers at the port] lead this story? It will lead to “Chinatown”-style conspiratorial rumblings, with oil supplanting water as the natural resource worth killing for.Forget it, Jake: It's just the Big Bad Oil Business, always messing up people’s lives and minds. (Real-life reality check: Without oil [and the Ship Channel and attendant petrochemical facilities], this place would be Shreveport [maybe], a festering, sweltering dump of no import, not a moving-and-grooving multicultural polyglot world-class metropolis, the one where insider-lawyer Jay Porter … ’scuse me, Gene Locke … has a good shot at being elected mayor.)
*At the time the local constabulary's reputation for railroading and whipping up on blacks and longhairs was so fearsome that upon arrival in our Chevy Biscayne we made a solemn vow to our self that we would do everything possible to avoid arrest and/or overly long contact with the police, a vow that, amazingly, we've been able to keep, lo these many years.